Welcome back to the Local Love Blog Series!
I’m very excited to be featuring Lou and Atomu Tanaka, a father-son duo who own and manage the Sushi House Banff – or otherwise known as the Sushi Train!
Owner Lou Tanaka opened Sushi House Banff in 1996 and it’s been a Banff staple ever-since. Originally from the rural part of Osaka, Japan, Lou has a deep understanding and appreciation for sushi. Coincidentally, he was born in the same neighbourhood as Mawaru Genroku Sushi which is the first ever Kaiten sushi restaurant.
Lou’s journey to opening Sushi House Banff has been a long but rewarding one.
Lou started as a dishwasher at 18 years old, with a dream of eventually working at the Banff Springs Hotel. When he was 21, Lou found his way to Banff and managed to beg his way into a kitchen job at the Banff Springs. This led to a 16 year career working for the Banff Springs Hotel, most notably as the sushi chef for the Samurai restaurant in the hotel.
While he was Samurai’s sushi chef, Lou had a feeling that there was a better way to serve sushi in the Bow Valley.
Lou was committed to bringing sushi to the more general market, ensuring it was inviting and affordable. One fateful day some 25+ years ago when Lou and his wife were stuck at the train tracks in Canmore, Lou had his brilliant idea. As he watched the train pass him by, he came up with the idea of using a toy train with flatbeds to serve sushi. This made the dining experience interactive for diners, relatively inexpensive, and tied in with the history of the Bow Valley.
Sushi House Banff is truly a family-run business located on Caribou St. in Banff.
Lou has the pleasure of working with his two sons, Atomu and Adamu Tanaka. Atomu, Lou’s eldest son, is now the Manager of Sushi House Banff. Atomu went to school for culinary arts, specializing in French Cuisine. Amongst various cooking jobs in the Bow Valley, Atomu eventually earned a job cooking at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant in Hokkaido called Zaborin, alongside Chef Yoshihiro Seno. About 7 years ago, Atomu came back to Banff to help Lou with the family business and has been managing the restaurant ever since.
Sushi House Banff has created an amazing atmosphere of locals and fostered a deep sense of community.
Their customers tend to be local regulars who want a quick, inexpensive bite to eat. However, they of course see tourists who are looking to have a “fun meal” while enjoying their vacation in Banff. Lou and Atomu make a point of keeping their restaurant small and tightly knit so that customers can feel the intimate connection with the chefs.
Opening a sushi restaurant in 1996 was something completely different for Banff.
Despite Samurai serving sushi at the Banff Springs Hotel, for most diners in Banff sushi was still a thing of mystery. When the restaurant first opened, Lou would put beef stew on the train for fun, since he knew customers would often be intimidated or scared of the other more traditional menu items. They even sold Cucumber Rolls for $1.00 just to introduce customers to the wonderful world of sushi!
With a chef in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by customers and the train, dining at Sushi House Banff is a completely unique experience.
Unlike other restaurants that have servers, the chefs at Sushi House Banff get to directly interact with their customers. They love seeing customers smile at the sushi and knowing that it’s a result of their hard work and dedication. The entire team at Sushi House Banff have spent over 25 years building relationships with locals and getting to connect over sushi is a constant source of inspiration and pride.
Atomu is committed to keeping his father’s legacy alive with Sushi House Banff.
He recognizes the barriers Lou had to overcome in opening his restaurant, and wants to keep his legacy going. With all of the changes going on in Banff and the Bow Valley, Atomu hopes that Sushi House Banff can remain a constant presence and sense of home for those who come. So next time you are in Banff and feeling peckish, be sure to pull up a stool at Sushi House Banff and pick your favourite dish off of the train. Lou, Atomu, and Adamu will be waiting with warm tea and fresh sushi!
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